ELLISVILLE – Head coach Steve Buckley has no idea what to expect when his fourth-ranked Jones College Bobcats open the 2019 season Thursday at Coahoma Community College.
“This is the unknown game,” he said. “There are so many things that are unknown in this game as far as what Coahoma will do as far as an X and O standpoint. We don’t know their personnel. They probably feel the same way about us.
“It’s obviously a challenge and I hope our kids are ready to meet that challenge.”
The Bobcats and Tigers will tee it up at 7 p.m. at James E. Miller Stadium in Clarksdale. The game will air on www.JCJC.TVand SuperTalk WLAU-FM, 99.3,with Mark Easley and Luke Johnson on the call.
The Bobcats opened last season with a 44-0 shutout victory over Coahoma. Jones went on to win the MACJC South Division, defeat Eastern Arizona 27-7 in the Mississippi Bowl and end the season at 10-2.
Jones returns only four starters on offense and two on defense, but the Bobcats will have numerous players coming back who saw game action last season.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who have played a bunch of quality snaps,” Buckley said. “But we only have two starters returning on defense and four on offense. I’m not worried, but obviously you are anxious somewhat as a coach to see how players are going to perform in a starting role. You throw 25 freshmen in there and they’ve never played a college football game before and you want to see how they adjust to the speed of the game.
“You can practice it all you want to, but until the lights come on, you never know how they are going to respond. I’ve got a good idea of how our kids will respond, but you never know until the lights are truly on.”
Sophomore quarterback Fred Barnum (Warren Central) is back and freshman Quaterius Hawkins (Bastrop, Louisiana) will also be at quarterback. Barnum completed 46-of-61 passes (75.4 percent) for 438 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Sophomore running back Kalyn Grandberry (Memphis, Tennessee) gained 1,289 yards on 242 carries and rushed for 10 touchdowns as a freshman. He was named NJCAA All-American, Region 23 Most Valuable Player and MACJC South Division Most Valuable Back. He was also named All-Region 23 and first-team All-MACJC South Division. Grandberry has committed to Memphis.
Buckley said the Bobcats have loads of experience at the receiver position with Manny Jones (Amory), Natorian Watts (Petal) and Nataurean Watts (Petal) returning. Dontavious Porter (Heidelberg) is back at tight end.
“We return seven receivers that played a lot of quality snaps last year, plus our tight end,” Buckley said. “You then take two freshmen receivers and a freshman tight end – those freshmen have had the luxury of learning behind guys that have quality reps. I think we have depth at those two positions and I think those kids can play.”
The Bobcats will have to rebuild the offensive line with only redshirt sophomore guard Christian Barnes (Ocean Springs) returning. Barnes was named All-Region 23 and All-MACJC first-team in 2018. But Buckley has confidence in the incoming offensive line talent and OL coach Grant Garner.
“It’s not our first time to do this, since I’ve been here,” Buckley said of rebuilding the line. “Grant does a great job with the offensive line and from an athletic standpoint, I think we may be as athletic up front since we’ve been here. Nobody has started except Christian. We are fortunate he decided to come back. It’s just a matter of getting them to gel together. Usually it takes a game or two to get them all on the same page. Hopefully, that happens sooner rather than later. I’m excited about this offensive line group and the freshmen that are here. We are going to play them all.”
On defense, the Bobcats return just two starters in lineman Chei Hill (Miami, Florida) and linebacker Daylen Gill (Louisville). But Hill and Gill had excellent freshmen campaigns.
Gill had 62 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss as a freshman. He was named All-MACJC second-team. Gill has committed to Ole Miss. Hill had 64 tackles, a nation's best 39 tackles for loss, 15 sacks (fourth in the nation), one pass breakup and one forced fumble. He was named All-Region 23 and All-MACJC first-team.
“Chei and Daylen are our two returning starters from last year, but again all of our guys played a lot of quality snaps,” Buckley said. “Hopefully, we can bring the same physicality we played with the last three years. I think we can run on defense and I feel really good about what we are doing defensively right now.”
The Bobcats are experienced in the kicking game with placekicker Cristofer Thompson (Adams County Christian School), punter Greg Hayden (Vicksburg) and long snapper Dakota Masters (Seminary) returning.
Again, Buckley has little information about Coahoma heading into Thursday night.
“We really don’t know about them,” he said. “I don’t have a clue. We can go on the website and look at the guys they’ve signed. But I’m more concerned about us right now and our team getting ready to play. As coaches, we’ve got to do a good job of reacting to what we are getting offensively, defensively and in the kicking game because there are so many unknowns.”
Still, Buckley believes the Bobcats will be ready to play.
“I guess the old saying is true: the hay is in the barn right now,” he said Tuesday morning in his office. “It’s time to play an opponent. Our players and coaches are tired of practicing against each other.”
Jones leads the series 23-1-1 over Coahoma.
The Bobcats will make another lengthy road trip next week when they travel to Goodman to meet Holmes for a 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 5.
Coahoma visits Mississippi Gulf Coast on Sept. 5.